Newcastle fans' group highlight concerns over Wonga sponsorship deal


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The Independent Football

A Newcastle fans' group has voiced its concern over the club's controversial decision to enter into a sponsorship agreement with loans company Wonga.

The Magpies confirmed last week that they have struck a four-year deal with Wonga, sparking protests from civic leaders and attracting fresh criticism of owner Mike Ashley and managing director Derek Llambias.

While the announcement was sugar-coated with the revelation that the new lead sponsor had also bought the naming rights to the stadium and decided to revert to its traditional title of St James' Park, a move which was warmly welcomed by fans, there were mixed feelings for many who responded to an online survey carried out by the Newcastle United Supporters' Trust.

NUST board member Michael Thewlis said: "It is clear from the initial results from our survey that this isn't a simple black or white issue and that there are many factors impacting on fans' opinions about this deal.

"Fans taking part in our survey understand that the club needs to attract commercial sponsors to support the development of the club, and that the reported £6million per year is a good financial deal.

"However, despite the ground formally reverting back to St James' Park, fans are disappointed that the club has not attracted a sponsor that enhances Newcastle United profile and is not the type of premium brand previously associated with the club.

"Even among fans who support the deal, this disappointment is further exacerbated as the club has chosen to associate itself with a company that charges very high rates of interest for loans targeted at some of the least well-off members of society."

More than 1,000 supporters took part in the survey with 4 per cent claiming to be "very happy" with the deal and 13 per cent "fairly happy".

But 23 per cent said they were "fairly unhappy" and 21 per cent that they were "very unhappy" with 39 per cent neither happy nor unhappy.

Thewlis said: "Fans are genuinely appreciative of the steps that Mike Ashley and Derek Llambias have taken in the past year or so in stabilising the club both on and off the field.

"They are happy that the new owner has given the club their first top five finish since Bobby Robson was manager; that we are competing in European competition for the first time since Glenn Roeder was in charge; that they have bought and sold wisely in the transfer market; and put in place a more realistic and sustainable wage structure at the club.

"The Trust and the vast majority of fans surveyed are not anti-Ashley or anti-Llambias.

"As a Trust, we want to work with the club in a constructive manner - and the fans support us in that aim.

"But trying to pretend that this is a great deal for the club and its supporters only inflames what is an already difficult relationship."

Thewlis said the Trust will contact kit suppliers Puma and Wonga to investigate the possibility of replica shirts being made available without the sponsor's logo.